Governments React to Secretary-General’s Proposals for Reform
UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
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UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres presented his report on the reform of the UN development system’s functions and capacities in a briefing to UN Member States.

Member States then shared their preliminary views on the Secretary-General’s proposals for reform.

The Secretary-General will continue to engage with Member States on his recommendations before a more detailed report is published in December 2017.

5 July 2017: In a briefing to Member States, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres presented his first proposals on the reform of the UN development system. The UN General Assembly (UNGA) mandated the report in a Resolution on the Quadrennial Comprehensive Policy Review (QCPR).

The briefing took place at UN Headquarters in New York, US, on 5 July 2017. Guterres introduced the report on the UN development system’s functions and capacities, noting it is an integral component of a broader reform agenda that includes reform of the peace and security architecture and management reform. He stressed the report responds to the QCPR Resolution’s request for proposals “that match the ambition needed to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).”

Guterres said “the shared goal” of the reform process is a 21st century UN development system that focuses on people, results for the most poor and excluded and integrated support for the 2030 Agenda.

Guterres said “the shared goal” is a 21st century UN development system that is focused: more on people and less on process; more on results for the most poor and excluded and less on bureaucracy; and more on integrated support for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and less on business as usual. To achieve this goal, he said the report includes 38 concrete ideas and actions, making it “the most ambitious yet realistic roadmap for change.”

The Secretary-General outlined eight guiding ideas of the report. He said the UN development system needs to:

  • accelerate its transition from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to the 2030 Agenda;
  • increase its focus on financing for development (FfD);
  • ensure a new generation of Country Teams that are tailored to the specific needs of each country;
  • resolve ambiguity in the role of Resident Coordinators, who are expected to steer UN Country Team support at the national level, but with limited tools and no formal authority over other UN agencies and offices;
  • establish an accountability mechanism at UN Headquarters that is seen as impartial and neutral, but without creating new bureaucracies or superstructures;
  • foster a more cohesive UN policy voice at the regional level, beginning by launching a review of the UN’s regional representation and activities in order to clarify the division of labor within the system; and
  • address the unintended consequences of earmarked funding that have hampered the UN’s ability to deliver as one, explaining that 85% of funds are currently earmarked, with 90% going to single-donor-single agency programmes.

Guterres concluded by noting that, while some proposals require further consultation, others can be set in motion immediately. He stressed that many questions raised in the report will require answers and further consideration, which he intends to seek jointly with Member States before publishing a more detailed report in December 2017. Guterres said he will also work on more detailed proposals to improve the Resident Coordinator system by December 2017.

Member States then expressed preliminary views on the report. Most countries, including Colombia, the EU, Japan, Jordan, Mexico, Singapore, Sweden, the UK, and the US, welcomed the Secretary-General’s vision, as contained in the report. Several countries, including Hungary, Jordan, Pakistan, Sweden, and the US, called for ensuring that the development, peace and security, and management reforms, which are in process, are addressed in an integrated manner. Jordan specified that such integration should be done “without a diversion of focus or funds from development.”

Canada and China said the reform of the UN development system should be centered on the 2030 Agenda and called for strengthening focus on it. The US and China welcomed the proposal to strengthen the role of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) in providing system-wide coordination. Belarus said the report reduces the role of UNDP, which “should play a key role.”

Sweden supported the proposal to make in-country delivery “the litmus test” for the reform. She called for finding ways to further advance gender equality through all the normative and operational changes in the UN system. She stressed the reform of the financing architecture as the most important part of the reform, underscoring the importance of core funding. She announced that Sweden, together with Norway, will continue to allocate 1% of gross national income (GNI) to development aid.

Chad, for the African Group, stressed the need to take Africa’s priorities as priorities of the UN development system. Maldives, for the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), said small island developing States (SIDS) will be “greatly dependent” on the UN development system and its entities. Bangladesh, for the least developed countries (LDCs), called for setting a system-wide UN benchmarking for funding allocation to certain groups of countries.

Chad said the December report should address ways in which Member States can access resources. China observed that North-South remains the main channel of cooperation and stressed that official development assistance (ODA) will continue to play an essential role. Thailand expressed support for support for the Secretary-General’s proposals to strengthen South-South and triangular cooperation.

Canada said the UN development system needs to adapt to the type of partnerships needed with the multilateral development banks (MDBs) through a type of integration “that has never been done before.” On funding, he noted that “there will be no magic bullet but a plethora of platforms to be partially organized or convened by the UN.”

Observing the UN’s institutional complexity developed in an arbitrary way over the past 70 years, Mexico stressed the need for designing incentives for systemic change and, to that end, for engaging in a “more refined and sophisticated diplomacy.” Brazil supported the proposals on strengthening the policy backbone and normative role of the UN development system. Colombia welcomed the proposal on respecting gender parity in the appointment of Resident Coordinators.

The Russian Federation said most of the proposals go beyond the mandate provided by the QCPR resolution and represent “a clear attempt to weaken the control of Member States of the UN development system.” He noted that the report constitutes “a misinterpretation of the 2030 Agenda, by not recognizing the principle of national ownership.” He expressed surprise to hear the “reform” language of several delegates and of the proposals, saying there is no mandate for “reform,” adding that the attempt to include conflict prevention in development is inappropriate. He observed that the report aims to expand the mandate of the Secretariat, containing recommendations towards the centralization of governance of the UN development system, “which undermines the current nature of the decision-making mechanisms.” He said the proposed interventions of the Secretariat in the boards of UN agencies were “illegitimate.”

Addressing countries’ questions and commentaries, Guterres said UNDP will be the integrator platform of the contributions from the different country-based agencies for the Resident Coordinator. He provided reassurance that South-South Cooperation will not be used to divert attention from other sources of financing.

Replying to Russia’s intervention, the Secretary-General said he does not intend to centralize the UN development system, but, by giving the Deputy Secretary-General the authority to oversee it, he respects the UNGA resolution that mandated the creation of the Deputy Secretary-General position initially. He explained that giving the Deputy Secretary-General the authority to oversee the UN system will make the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) the center of the system-wide accountability mechanism to allow Member States to receive a more accurate, integrated analysis of the work of the UN development system, beyond the fragmented perspective provided by the reports of provided by different entities. Guterres stressed the reform is “not to reduce but to increase the accountability of the system to Member States.”

The Secretary-General concluded by noting that his team recognizes the centrality of development to all UN pillars. He announced that a work plan for the interaction of Member States with ECOSOC on the December report will be presented after the 2017 session of the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF). [UN Secretary-General Statement] [UN Press Release][SDG Knowledge Hub Story on the Secretary-General’s Report][SDG Knowledge Hub Story on the Deputy Secretary-General’s first briefing on the reform][SDG Knowledge Hub Story on the QCPR Resolution][SDG Knowledge Hub Policy Brief on the process that led to the QCPR Resolution][IISD Sources]

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